Table Manners

Posted by on Sep 12, 2014 in Faith Words |

Words of Faith

Rev. Rita S. Platt

October 7, 2012

“Table Manners”

Don’t put your elbows on the table while you’re eating. Wait until everyone is served before you begin. Make sure you have your napkin in your lap. Don’t slurp your soup! Didn’t I tell you, you are not to slurp your soup? Am I starting to sound like your mother? Or your grandmother? Or whoever it was that taught you good table manners? What were some of the rules at your dinner table growing up? Did you have to be in your seat at a certain time, sharp, clean and dressed for dinner? Were you expected to set the table for your family meal? Were you expected to wait until everyone was finished eating before you left the table?

In my home, my father was a mill worker and in those days the mills were in high activity. My father worked three shifts, so the appropriate table manners of the time depended on the shift my father was on. Even as a child, we learned the rotation: one week, one way; another week, another time; the third, another. We knew what was appropriate.

We also knew that if you didn’t get to the table on time, especially as my two younger sisters arrived, there was only so much food to go around and you’d better not complain if you were not there. That was a different time, when families gathered together, when the demands of the world didn’t seem to cave in on families and send them in one direction or another.

I want to go back to that time with you for a moment. I want you to remember that mother – that grandmother – who thought it was so important for you to know how to behave at the table. When you do that, you are able to step into the place of hearing Paul.

Like any concerned mother or grandmother who is trying to teach her offspring good table manners, Paul has a few things to say to the church in Corinth about their table manners. Paul is not happy with the abuses he has seen at the Lord’s Table.

The Corinthian believers have taken this communal meal, in which the vitally important remembrance of Jesus’ last supper takes place and royally messed it up. Paul is so disturbed about the reports he has heard that he does not beat around the bush. He uses a harsh reprimand. Paul says,

“So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!” 1 Cor 11: 20- 22
Now we need to step back a little and be sure we understand communion in the first century. For the 1st Century Christian, observing the Lord’s Supper was quite different from the way we experience it today. Remember that they were most likely meeting in homes, not in established church buildings. So, they were probably gathering in a home large enough to host an entire community of believers in Christ. It wasn’t just a family around the table, it was a “Christian family” of believers. Modern scholars believe that the ritual observance of the Lord’s Supper happened in the context of a larger meal. The observance of the communion meal started with breaking bread together, remembering the way Christ broke bread with the disciples. Next, they would eat a full meal and the first-century Christians included wine and the wine flowed freely. At the conclusion of the meal the ritual cup was lifted in recognition of the cup Jesus lifted at the last supper, and that cup was shared. Eating together was an important way to form a community, especially since Jews and Gentiles were both believers in Christ together. Harsh adherence to dietary laws had been loosened in the name of table fellowship and relationship with one another.
In an ideal world this “bread, meal, cup” way of being together was a beautiful way to observe and remember the meal that Christ shared with his beloved followers. It was designed to be a perfect picture of “unity” in the wine of Christ. However, the Corinthians had made a real mess of it. It seems that some were coming early to the meal – maybe those that were in the more elite classes who had the luxury to come and go as they pleased, and some were coming later. By the time the latecomers got there, there was no food left. The early birds were stuffed and drunk. Not exactly what a meal in the Kingdom of God should look like. This is where Paul became upset. They had forgotten that their fellowship together was so important. They had forgotten their “table manners.”

Paul knew; Paul remembered how important table fellowship was to Jesus. Eating was vitally important to Jesus. How many times did he teach at the table? He taught and he showed in his dining with others that all people should have a place at the table. Jesus even reserved a special place at the table, a place of honor for those who did not regularly receive it. Jesus gave priority seating to the poor, the disabled, the sinner – those who were not ideal dinner guests in the world. And those “add-ons” who came late to the table – Jesus actually gave them priority.
Paul knew how important the table fellowship was. But the Corinthians seemed to have short-term memory loss! Paul had spent time with them, teaching. He modeled how they were to live together. But then he left town, and they messed it up! They forgot the importance of table manners and sometimes we do, too. The Lord’s Supper is the central, most important thing we do as the people of God. We remember events in the upper room; we remember the stories. But as we remember, we become part of the story.

Remembering is not just about thinking back to an event; there is more to remembering than that. I want you to think about the word remember. Break it down into two parts and it is “re -member.” The word literally means to “put back together again.” When we gather to share the Lord’s Supper we put back together the Body of Christ. We become that body in our sharing of the meal. When we realize that we are Christ’s body we remember there are persons who are forgotten; there are persons who are not at the table; there are persons who we have absent-mindedly let go.

You and I are called to be Christ’s hand in the world. Sharing communion is not a “ritual.” We do not participate in a “ritual.” Sharing communion is a meaningful time when we “re-member.” Many find that when they participate in the Lord’s Supper, it gives them an opportunity to reconnect themselves to Christ. They’ve been using the words, but actions are far away.

Many reflect on the blessings we’ve been given. When we share the Great Thanksgiving, we realize how much we have to be thankful for – things we’ve taken for granted have new meaning. We re-member. I’m not sure what it is, what happens today as you share the meal, but I hope today you take the sacrament with purpose and intentionality.

This morning I want to ask you, how are your table manners? Do you go through the motions at the communion table on a monthly basis and not let the power that God gives transform you? Have you forgotten who is missing at the table and what God is calling you to do?

On this day, when Christians all over the world are participating in the sacred meal, somewhere, somebody is taking communion for the first time. And I assure you, they are not “going through the motions.” Somewhere in the world, there are people taking communion in a place where it is not safe to be Christian. They are huddled together in that place and sharing that time and I’ll guarantee you they are not “going through the motions.”

How about us? I pray today that each of us would examine our hearts and find that we are a beloved child of God. We are so valued and beloved that Christ gave up his life to secure us a place at God’s Table. May we treat this table as if what we do here might just save the world; because it can- and it will through the power of Christ- if our table manners are right. Amen and amen.